There are loads of stories out in cyberspace about Archbishop Raymond Burke being named as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and all kinds of reactions. I'm late to the game, but it was a little difficult sorting out what I was going to say.
First, it was not unexpected, at least by me, that he was going to Rome. My last post on this blog was about his appointments to the Pontifical Council on Legislative Texts and the Congregation for the Clergy. He had already been appointed as a judge at the Signatura last year. He was the only American non-cardinal archbishop with three assignments in Rome. In fact, he may have been the only non-cardinal archbishop with any assignments in Rome since those are usually reserved for cardinals.
Second, he didn't want the appointment and wasn't looking for it. The comments sections in the La Crosse Tribune and St. Louis Post-Dispatch have been filled with venom with many people accusing him of seeking this appointment. That is an outright lie. He was in La Crosse last month for the annual May Crowning at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I semi-congratulated him on his appointments, but told him that while I know the Holy Father appreciates his abilities, I hope the Pope won't tax them too much. He turned his head down and looked away as though he was worried and gave me this very brief reply -- "I hope so, too." It's obvious that he was hearing the rumors that Cardinal Ruini was going to retire and that Cardinal Vallini would take his place, which would leave the Signatura post vacant. He told Jennifer Brinker at the St. LouisReview that the two previous curial appointments "...made me a bit concerned. I was honored by the trust, but I was becoming concerned that it might be an indication of (the Vatican) wanting me more full time." This is an understatement. His manner of speaking with me betrayed much more than concern.
He teared up today in his press conference in St. Louis. He did the same when he left La Crosse. These were not Hillary tears. These were the tears of a man who dearly loves those people for whom he cares, even if he was in conflict with some of them.
Third, this is a loss for the Church in the United States. For all his lack of media savvy, Archbishop Burke forced a conversation that has been needed in this country and the wider Church for a while and is still needed -- the need for absolute fidelity to the teachings and discipline of the Catholic Church. Besides Bishop Leo Maher, late of San Diego, denying Communion to a pro-abortion pol back in 1989, no one had pushed this as hard as Archbishop Burke did. His slap-in-the-face statement about Kerry (which unfortunately became the defining statement of him in the American imagination) woke people up to the reality that Holy Communion in the Catholic Church isn't a 1968 love fest to which everyone is invited. There are rules around It, rules that come, not from old celibate men sitting in ivory towers in Rome, but from the very nature of the Eucharist. Cardinal (oops!) Burke has the courage, but more importantly, the clear-mindedness to see that those rules must be enforced, otherwise they are mere sentimental statements. Let's hope that some of his actions have rubbed off on his brethren.
How he will effect the rest of the Church in this new position remains to be seen. Assuredly, whatever influence he has will be behind-the-scenes. Starting in late August, we'll most likely not be seeing anymore headlines about Burke and Catholic politicians. I'm sure he'll be glad of that. That omnipresent Jesuit voice in the media (can they never find anyone else to comment?), Father Tom Reese told AP, "Every pro-choice Catholic Democrat politician should be very nervous. He made his name in the U.S. by denying Communion to pro-choice politicians. If he gets that view articulated strongly in Rome, he could become the voice for having that position for the universal church." Well, Father Tom, then that means more than Catholic Democrats need to be nervous. So do Catholic Republicans and Labour and Social Democrats and every other politician of whatever political stripe who might support abortion. And that would be a very good thing.
It's funny. With all the hoopla surrounding his appointment, the press missed something big in St. Louis. His last major act as archbishop there was issuing a decree of interdict against a Sister of Charity for participation last November in the pretend ordination of a woman in a synagogue. Why they didn't leap at this chance to get one last dig in on his pastoral style is beyond me.